Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
I just saw this image posted up on Facebook and potters are taking great umbrage at the "handcrafted" branding. In one blog I read, "something I saw the other day at WalMart which just pissed me off. Apparently the marketing people at WalMart think calling factory-made work "hand made" adds value to a $3.58 mug. "Special glazing technique makes every piece unique." Right ..."
I posted this image on my Facebook page, only saying "This will add to the discussion..." and it sure has. Friends there are describing the difference between handmade as process, as personal value, as a measure of just how much "handmade" is in the work, etc. I'll let the FB thread play out a bit more and then will try to include it here on this blog.
So how much hand contact makes something handmade? And does the term "handmade" require that the hands producing it be connected to same person who imagined and created the form?
As with many debates, what seems really apparent in them is that language and terminology has slipped, become less exact or widely encompassing. Perhaps the problem here is not so much with how work is or isn't produced but how diverse approaches can exist within one term. Perhaps we might want to look historically at the term "handcrafted" to examine its meanings and to find out if there have always been multiple meanings. Maybe it is time to formulate new language and new terms to describe the qualities that fall under, and those that don't, the term "handcrafted." I'll have to give this some thought to come up with wording to eliminate the word, so that the discussion can begin fresh.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
I keep thinking about the discussion of what to do with the bowls.
Sometimes in Clare’s work there is an element of asking questions about social or consumer behavior. In Trophy – would people follow each other in stealing the birds? In Forever, would people sign an imposing agreement in order to own a piece?
Perhaps asking questions about consumer or human behavior could help us determine the next step. We have been asking "why make?" For the most part, our answers are internal... why we make for ourselves. The next step could be why we make for others? What value do people assign to handmade? Are they willing to accept imperfections and individuality, or would they prefer the consistency of manufactured?
If we sell the bowls, I would like to see the performance part of the piece continue. We made a factory. Perhaps we could make a warehouse and a store. Maybe we box the bowls and sell them to people who know there are imperfections, but do not see the imperfections until they get the bowls home and unpack them. Maybe it could even be mail-order?
Thursday, April 5, 2012
We are constantly bombarded with objects in our daily life that are generic and mass-produced. Michael Cardew noticed this trend to “depersonalized the objects we most admire.” Handmade qualities are sometimes seen as flaws that might limit the function of a thing. To me making is a way to repersonalize the objects around us. It is in opposition to the sterility and uniformity so many objects that surround me seem to be striving for.
There is also something inherently human about making. Animals build nests and other architecture, but given the choice I would imagine they would opt for an easier route. In my eyes, choosing to make a bowl (or 1000) as opposed to buying one couldn’t be a more human action. That choice connects to a human culture that reaches as far back as prehistory when people were manipulating materials in a way that is not so different from the way we do it today.
Does "making" relate to an object or does it extend further back into choice of material? Ceramic artists have many options for clay bodies. Options can be straight forward and pragmatic or they can hold great intention and represent philosophies. In past studios I recall stigma placed against buying boxed clays. Also some clay artists place a great deal of pride and status on developing their own clay recipes and then mixing them. Others might take the purity even further to mine their own clay or to move their studio to sit adjacent to a natural source for clay and rocks for glaze. Potters Ruggles and Rankin, formerly of North Carolina, made incredible pots and lived without electricity other than that produced by a small generator powered by a stream on their property. (I've seen this and hope my description is accurate.)
So where do we start the making?
Likewise, I sometimes get lost in thinking about the pottery and where its utilitarianism begins or ends. Determining that place also determines my own parameters as the potter, as the maker. I'm quite satisfied in my work for the homeowner and cook to do the prepare the meal and to figure out where the cooking begins - from grocery store or garden to plate. I design the pots to hold some absence so that the cook can complete the work with a nicely served dinner. In this way, I've chosen that my making must imply opportunities for the cook to "make" as well. I chose the reserved glaze color so that the cook can mix and match color and texture with every meal. In my current work, it's important that my making promotes and highlights the cooking by the homeowner. I hope the lack of permanent color inspires the cook to fill the plate and thus make it truly functional. Making encouraging making.
But in other ways, where the making of a utilitarian form begins and ends is confusing. I sometimes think about it like this. If my plate sits on a tablecloth or on a place mat, do I need to design the textiles for either of those so that the plate fits in? If yes, the textiles sit on a table. Do I then design that table? Which materials and forms would complement that pottery? The table sits on a floor or a rug, is there opportunity for me to move from the tableware through the table to have some say in floor or rug design? And that rug and floor.... eventually they will tie into the walls and floorboards................
I think you see where this is going. One object touches another. If each object has its own specific purpose and if the proximity between them or the partnered functional needs among them lead to the comprehensive experience of a dining room, for instance, where does my making end? Within the specific object - the tableware? Or does the tableware open up the possibility to design the entire dining room....and if the dining room is part of the house, do I make the house. Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, worked this way.
All of this calls up the purpose of boundaries or limitations. Parameters is likely a better word. Knowing when the making is framed by a boundary that contains it and keeps it from a natural expansion is often difficult to distinguish between the parameters that help focus and drive the specific objectives of the making.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Among these was one response that resonated with me strongly, to my surprise. This particular artist said that his reasons for making were, mainly, unimportant. For him, the only thing that mattered was the endless, inner compulsion TO make, and that all else beyond that was merely speculation, although interesting (and obviously for this residency) to discuss. On any given day, he makes for a different reason than the day before. He spoke of not seeking to generate his "own propaganda" in respect to such a wild, variable factor.
I think the idea of this compulsion and its nature is interesting, It also seems to naturally cycle back around the question of "why?".
Every piece I make holds something dear to me, some part of my life, be it past, present, or future holdings, that I wish to be archived. I make in ways of remembrance, a story to be conveyed in some way or another to the viewer, of my life.
There is a story hidden in each piece I make, some obvious, some not, and with those stories or memories, I make to connect to whomever views so that I become immortal so to speak.
Everyone wishes to make some kind of impact on life, to not be forgotten after their gone. Whether it be and actual realization of this, or a hidden recessed idea. I know that anytime someone views a sculpture of mine, it will be in their mind forever, even if it is only a fragment of that memory, it is still their. That connection that I have made with that person, no matter how small is still there.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
Perhaps this is taking Clare's question "why make" a bit too literally, but partly I feel that making keeps us from being Idle (with a capital I) and wasting what could be growthful, productive "becoming" time. The hand and mind, in terms of human growth and development (The Hand by Frank Wilson) are inextricably linked. The developing dexterity of our hand -in an evolutionary sense- separated us from other primates. Contemporary neouroscience confirms that engaging in manual/ tactile activity stimulates brain development. So- if in the process of using our hands to physically work at a thing- we grow- physiologically in terms of our brains, as well as individuals- are those not reasons to make?
Making also keeps us, on the advice of poet Mary Oliver, "beholden to what is tactile" in a world of encroaching virtuality. "Making" is one means to keep us in balance with what our bodies crave doing- movement- of our hands and selves in a kind of memorable choreography (to quote Forrest) of 'figuring things out'. In making we physically and mentally engage in a process of subtle improvement that eventually reveals better and better renditions of a thing. We then have these tangible objects before our very eyes. The objects become evidence of our growth. (The bowls of Clare's feel like sentry's keeping watch over a kind of poetic space we have all, in this week, created together... )
In studio (or even in factory-based) ceramics "making" also, literally, keeps us nested within a community of fellow makers and problem solvers, allowing for both shared and individualized growth of knowledge within that communal environment.
It's always gratifying to hear from a student that they feel they "belong" in the ceramics area. That sense of belonging could be an outgrowth of the basic need many studio ceramists have to rely on a shared space, shared equipment, shared time, etc. Also, the studio environment offers a unique kind of balance for its participants. It involves solitude but also interdependence, with one moving from independent time to community spaces and back- partly out of necessity, but also with connections being built as their own reward, too.
Making can be a contemporary version of being an explorer- albeit on a smaller scale... within material there is rich discovery of possibility that can arise from problem solving and an entering into uncharted territory.
Clare said last night that her greatest fear is that (I hope I am quoting her well) "making doesn't matter". (Basically, what we are doing with her here at LSU doesnt matter). This seems like a great question to grapple with while she is still here and we are madly making...
(to return to the proverb above- Idleness in essence is passivity. There is little that is passive about making this project! The studio is a virtual hive of activity)